[I appreciate that the following must appear mean. I’m sorry – I bear no malice to Dave who is no doubt a decent person. We moderates sit silently for most of the time, and are always in the shadow of the furious wrong, full of their passionate intensity]
It is 25 years since the Brighton Bombing (John Redwood was there). And Dave Osler on Liberal Conspiracy has decided to use the anniversary to think aloud about a really difficult moral question: were the IRA within their rights, as he believed at the time ? Gosh, it is amazing what time does to one’s thoughts on such knife-edge issues, because, now, it turns out, that Dave has changed his mind:
Would I feel like that now? . . . For me, the distance accorded by a third of the average lifetime is enough to put the matter in perspective. Humanism arrives to temper the abstractions.
Humanism arrives. It’s amazing what a mere 25 years’ thought can achieve: extraordinarily, even the callous victims of the bomb might have moral ascendancy now. Or in Dave’s words.
Although I could not have imagined myself saying this in 1984, Tebbit obviously now has the moral high ground.
Really? His wife bed-bound for 25 years, his own life almost ended . . . you don’t say.
Dave’s mea culpa is not the only one: according to him it was widespread amongst ferocious Left-of-Left twenty-somethings to believe that actions like those of the IRA might further some great cause of the workers. A great number of our current politicians went through a Trotsky phase when younger. Kids eh? They have to learn, somehow, I suppose.
Actually it annoys the hell out of a cautious, empirical moderate like me. The higher reaches of Parliament – and the pages of Liberal Conspiracy – are populated by people who once believed stupid, illogical or plain nasty things. Why should it be seen as brave or honest to admit they were terribly, nastily wrong? They are, intellectually, the equivalents of scientists who were once Creationists, or Climate Change Deniers. In any other profession this extraordinary determination to have a really strong view about something when 95% short of the required level of understanding and evidence, this arrogance, would quite straightforwardly render them unfit for future office in their profession.
It’s not like wearing flares or shoulder-pads, or listening to the Thomson Twins*: people in the 80s had no choice about that.
Peter Hitchens is a good example. I hear he was once a Troskyist. Now he is a stereotypically grumpy old Tory lamenting the disappearance of grammar schools. Which one was right? Argue amongst yourselves: all I can discern is that he was passionately full of his own self-belief at each stage, and determined that the world have his opinions, even when they were far away from 80% of the population. The uniting theme – and the theme for so many thrusting politicians from Student Union to Research Unit to Safe Seat to Parliament to Government – is a belief in being right with absolutely no self-correcting mechanism, no reasoned examination of their views or evidence.
This unites a few themes for me: Keynes’ great insights into uncertainty and probability, the superiority of Liberalism (a doctrine that is extremely cautious about forcing extreme world views onto others), the strangely arrogant confusion of the Left looking for a new position to be certain about (see post on Aaronovitch versus Harris).
Dave is typical, I guess. He was wrong in 1984, horribly monstrously wrong. But instead of heading off into another area that did not involve trying to influence the political opinions of others – as you would, say, if you were a doctor who was horribly wrong when it came to diagnosis – he seems to be in the same business, still. As is Peter Hitchens.
Ironically, Paul has written a post called “How to make excuses for your nasty friends“. There should be another one for anyone who has ever been an extremist, be they National Front (‘oh, what an embarassing phase’), Soviet-supporting bohemians (‘but all my friends did it’) or Climate Denying (‘it was such a cold winter’):
“How to keep giving out confident political opinions despite your views being destroyed by events, logic and mature reflection for 25 years”
*or any music in that dire decade before the Stone Roses turned up